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This blog was written by Fabienne van Eck, program manager for Bara’em Ghirass in Palestine.

January can be very cold in Palestine, but each time I enter Ghirass Cultural Center, our partner organization in Bethlehem, I feel warmed by the children and staff. I wish you could all come and visit us to experience the great work they are doing. The building is cold and many children play music with their jackets on (not necessarily practical when playing the ‘ud or the violin) but we have so much fun together that we quickly forget about the temperature around us. 

One of the colleagues who makes everything possible is Abeer Sansour, a Palestinian artist and opera singer, specializing in traditional Palestinian folklore music. Abeer does fantastic work with us as a choir leader at the Center. Here’s what they had to say about working at Ghirass Cultural Center and the effect that music activities have on the wellbeing of the children:

“I always start the choir lessons with vocal warm up and breathing exercises, and once in a while I also add drama exercises. These exercises are connected to drama, music, stage presence and connecting with the audience. I see how these exercises change the children’s personality. They get used to having their friends around them and the connection between them increases. We practice how to react to each other, using facial expression and body language. I’ve noticed how the connections and friendships between participants have strengthened through these activities.

I’ve recognised how the children have developed throughout the project. For example Yasmeen (name changed), who’s parents are both deaf. During the first year she always created chaos around her, she was talking a lot and made lots of movements. I think this happened because at home she can only communicate through sign language, and not talk using her voice, so during the music lessons she was constantly talking to everyone around her. It’s amazing to see how much she calmed down, sitting, focused, paying attention, singing and playing brilliantly!

I’ve also witnessed how music can form healthy bonds between people where before there was conflict. In the beginning of the program I noticed some tension between participants because of perceived ability. Instead of tackling this head-on through confrontation, I’ve used music activities to intervene and create a healthier and more supportive atmosphere. They developed love and respect between them. This way their relationship became much better and they all became very good friends.”

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